Even by the standards of serials King of the Wild is an outrageous concoction. Outrageous but fun.
It was made by Mascot Pictures in 1931, Mascot being one of those Poverty Row studios that specialised in serials, cheap, westerns and the like.
Robert Grant is a young America who just happens to bear a striking resemblance to the Rajah of Rampur. The Rajah is accidentally killed in a tiger hunt and just before he dies he begs Grant to take his place for 48 hours until his brother arrives to assume the throne. The Rajah is worried that his evil cousin Prince Dakka will seize power. Unfortunately things go wrong and Grant finds himself accused of murdering the Rajah to seize the throne himself.
Grant has a letter from the Rajah that proves his innocence but it’s written in disappearing ink and he gets double-crossed by a crooked hunter named Harris. He’s thrown into prison but escapes and then travels to Darkest Africa to find Harris and retrieve the letter and clear his name.
He gets double-crossed again by a wily Arab named Mustapha (Boris Karloff). In fact Mustapha double-crosses everybody. Mustapha is trying to find the secret location of a fabulous diamond mine, a location known only to a young American named Tom Armitage. He uses the glamorous Mrs LaSalle to try to persuade Tom to reveal the location but Mrs LaSalle gets shot and Tom’s sister Muriel is accused of the murder.
Then the ship they’re on gets wrecked and all the wild animals escape and the survivors find their way to a native village but the native king gets murdered and the escaped lions and tigers are wandering about attacking people at random and the Africans want to kill Muriel for being a witch and the district officer gets shot and there’s a mysterious man in dark glasses who may hold the key to the mystery but then it’s also a possibility than an old lady called Mrs Colby who is really a Secret Service agent may hold the answers. And that only takes us halfway through the third of the twelve episodes! The plot gets more complicated after that!
Oh, and did I mention that the crooked hunter Harris has a ferocious ape-man as his henchman? There’s also a kidnapping by means of an elephant. What more could you want?
There’s silliness piled on silliness and ludicrous coincidences abound and there are endless unlikely plot twists. Which is what serials are all about. Where this one differs from most serials is that it has about four times as much plot as most of them. There are no filler episodes. Something outlandish happens every few minutes. The writers clearly believed that whenever nothing had happened for two minutes or so it was time for someone else to get shot or for another lion to suddenly leap out at somebody.
It’s an approach that works for me.
The acting is pretty terrible, apart from Boris Karloff who is having a great time being sinister and scheming.
There’s also enough political incorrectness in this serial to last most reasonable people a lifetime.
It’s available on DVD and it’s dirt cheap. If you’re a fan of serials then this is one you absolutely have to see.